Sydney Middle Eastern Dance Festival Archive

1996: Engaging Evolutions

1996 Festival Program cover. Click to enlarge.

by Ruth

1996 was the last we saw of the Bellydance-a-thon.

Some regretted its demise while others cheered its departure. Personally, I'm glad it is a thing of the past. Anything that ends in a-thon smacks of bad 70s TV and should be discouraged at all costs.

Leonie's fundraising efforts continue today outside the Festival - in recent years she has supported the Australian Genies Foundation annual Genie Ball.

Leonie rented out stalls at the Bellydance-a-thon from its inception, and this aspect of the day grew in popularity over the years. In fact, the shopping became so popular that, after 1996, the event evolved into the Gypsy Bazaar.

The Festival Program got an extreme makeover and Leonie confined the scissors-and-paste-work to her class flyers for ever after. With a saddle stitch and an actual design, the 1996 Program signalled that the Festival had come of age and had truly become a must-do event on the national calendar. By this time, the Festival had begun to attract small-business sponsors and advertisers, which made possible the more professional look and the expansion of the workshop program to include concurrent workshops ie Festival-goers were offered a choice of workshops in most timeslots.

Enmore Theatre was a venue for the first time, hosting both Layali Sharq concerts and providing another workshop venue (conducted on the stage!) in addition to Leonie's studio. Unfortunately, the Theatre closed for renovations the following year and the Festival wasn't able to return to it until 1999. The relationship between the Festival and the Theatre continued fruitfully for some years afterwards, but more recently the Theatre has become such a popular venue that the Festival can no longer get a booking, much to the disappointment of audience, performers and organisers alike.

Amera Amera Camel Belyssa Leonie Sazende

Above from left (click to enlarge): Amera doing cabaret and mid-Khaleegi-hair-flick, Cynthia's camel, Belyssa, Leonie and the "refugees" cast, zany Sazende in the foyer complete with stilts and percussion.

Shamira of Adelaide made her first appearance at the Festival in the Friday night concert, "glittering in silver", according to Carolynn Parr-Whalley's subsequent newsletter report. Shamira confesses to being terribly nervous about her debut at the Festival, because at that time there were few opportunities in Adelaide to dance with top quality musicians, and because she knew the fabulous Amera, just returned from two years in the Middle East, was dancing a couple of acts after her.

Looking at the well-worn video of Shamira's performance with the band that night, there's no evidence of nerves. Just a fantastic performance, including a drum solo in which she held her own against the now-legendary Ghassan! Shamira has come back every year since and is a Festival favourite both as a teacher and performer.

Sydney's Sazende caused a stir with their zany performance in which all members alternated between dancing and percussion playing - and at times did both at once. Their memorable show included a wacky 'bird dance' and Ali (who is now with Kush Cabaret) bellydanced on stilts while playing zills.

Highlights of the Saturday night concert included Maria Sangiorgi (Melbourne) who performed a hot Tamra Henna with Melbourne band Ta-esh Fa'esh, Cynthia Delaney's Gypsy Flames who debuted along with their popularly preposterous pink camel, and Belyssa, who performed and then was joined by Desiree in an exuberant impromptu finale. Leonie's performance dedicated to the women and children refugees of the world and danced to Barbara Dixon's Caravan, was reported by Carolynn as "a powerful and moving piece of theatre". She wrote:

"Middle Eastern dance is able to convey strong emotion and Leonie did just that, achieving a strong rapport with her audience. I heard several people remark during the interval that they were glad to have the lights out as Leonie's piece brought tears to their eyes (I'm not ashamed to say that I was one of them)."

Workshop teachers included Belyssa, Sue Buntine, Margot McManus, Judy Lees, Desiree Sheldrake, Gina Whitfield, Amera and Leonie. Fatima Yucef from the Turkish Academy of Fine Arts and Music taught the Spoon Dance from Ayfon Dinai.

Drumming featured in the program with a Rhythm Session with Ghassan (Sydney) and Anne Harkin (Melbourne), a workshop on the basics by Karen Wray, and two sessions of Ghassan and Leonie's tag-team Drum's Alive workshop.

Elenie Spoon workshop Desiree Workshop

Above, from left (click to enlarge): Elenie and Ghassan perform at the Bellydance-a-thon, Spoon workshop with Fatima on the stage at Enmore Theatre, Desiree re-starts the Saturday night concert after interval, workshop participants - that's Shekhinah from Bellingen front and centre!

View Documents: 1996 Festival Images will open in new windows

| Program Extract: Workshop Timetable 1996 | Concert Program: Pages 1 & 4 |

| Concert Program: Pages 2 & 3 | Concert Tickets | Original of the Bellydance-a-thon Flyer | Return to top |